The first media briefing of the ANC’s 54th national conference saw secretary general Gwede Mantashe swallowed in a sea of cameras and reporters with notebooks and recording devices.
The media briefing room at the Nasrec expo centre in Johannesburg, where the conference is being held, was filled with journalists who came from various parts of the world to
witness what has been dubbed the ANC’s most contested elective conference ever.
Despite the two large speakers in the room, Mantashe’s voice was barely audible over the heads of journalists who represented just a fraction of the 1 200 attending the conference.
“This is the biggest turnout we’ve ever had, it’s bigger than the [football] World Cup,” said ANC communications manager Khusela Sangoni.
For journalists, just being on the Nasrec premises — even without the possession of the coveted plenary accreditation tag — is a privilege, considering the tight accreditation process that preceded the event.
Even among the 1 200 who have been finally accredited, not all are equal.
Only 200 have been bestowed with the privilege of possessing the pink “plenary” tag that allows entry into the main hall where the official addresses will be delivered.
For some media personnel the journey to being accredited with the “pink tag” has involved rejection, bargaining, pleading, begging and the eventual acceptance of whatever decision was given.
According to Sangoni, the party received nearly 4 000 media applications from journalists wanting to attend the conference.
But, with the number of reporters threatening to equal the number of ANC delegates attending the conference, Sangoni and her team were forced to slash the list of applicants by more than half.
Sangoni said first preference was given to local media and, despite initial concerns from some community media outlets that they may be sidelined, smaller media houses were also represented.
“We tried as much as we could to have a balance. We operated on an 80-20 principle — 80% being our South African media and 20% being international media,” Sangoni said.
“And within that 80% we tried our best to accommodate everyone. Unfortunately there were some people who applied who did not have any media house that they belonged to, but we really tried our best,” she added.
Those who have survived the road to being accredited now have a poorly-ventilated media lounge, slow wi-fi and access restricted by wire fences to look forward to for the next four days.
Still, these misgivings will be tolerated in the quest to witness the end of president Jacob Zuma’s term and the election of a new ANC leader.